September 16, 2009 / 9:22 AM / 10 years ago

EU plans 30 cities to lead world on "smart" energy

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe will select 30 cities to pioneer “smart” electricity grids and space-proven insulation as it seeks to lead the global race for green technology, a draft European Union document shows.

Workers install solar panels on what will be the biggest integrated solar panel roof of the world, at a farm in Weinbourg, Eastern France February 12, 2009. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The windpower sector must shift offshore and strive to provide a fifth of EU electricity by 2020 — ahead of industry goals — said a draft of the European Commission’s long-awaited Strategic Energy Technology Plan.

The so-called SET-Plan lays out the EU’s strategy for promoting hi-tech solutions to climate change to give European businesses a head start as the world switches to low-carbon energy.

Billions of euros will have to be poured into research to avoid falling behind the United States, which is pouring $777 million into energy research, the draft, obtained by Reuters ahead of the plan’s release next month, said.

“Basic research is chronically underfunded in the EU,” the report said. “We need to stimulate and incentivize our best brains to push back the frontiers of science.”

The project envisages 25 to 30 “smart cities” — highly insulated cities that glean energy from their waste and the sun and wind overhead and channel it down to the electric cars, trams and buses in the streets below.

“These Smart Cities will be the nuclei from which smart networks, a new generation of buildings and alternative transport means will develop into European wide realities,” it added.

EU officials are still calculating the exact needs for funding and how it will be split between industry and the public purse.

MIXED REACTION

Environmentalists gave the plan a mixed reception, saying it should have completely ditched coal power and nuclear.

The geothermal industry, which generates steady “baseload” power by tapping into the earth’s natural heat, said it provided the perfect complement to fluctuating wind and solar and expressed dismay it had been ignored altogether.

“A renewable energy mix can not be reached in the future without geothermal energy,” the European Geothermal Energy Council said.

Boosting energy efficiency will top the agenda, an area where the European Space Agency is expected to contribute.

“This could be achieved by transferring advanced insulation materials and ultra-efficient energy systems to the terrestrial energy sector,” the report said.

Coal-fired power stations will be pushed to trap and bury their carbon dioxide emissions and the nuclear industry will be urged to move toward a new generation of reactors — the so-called Generation-IV reactor.

“Such reactors will be able to exploit the full energetic potential of uranium, thus greatly extending resource availability by factors up to 100 over current technologies,” said the report.

Greenpeace campaigner Frauke Thies said the overall message was inconsistent, as money poured into coal and nuclear would only prolong Europe’s unhealthy dependence on an inflexible, centralized energy network.

“We must focus on building a decentralized and flexible energy system that can handle fluctuations in renewable energy and balance supply and demand,” she added.

Reporting by Pete Harrison, editing by Anthony Barker

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